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Composure at back a strength for Real Salt Lake against Minnesota, but next match will be toughest test yet

RSL will face much higher pressure from Kansas City in group finale on Wednesday

SHARE Composure at back a strength for Real Salt Lake against Minnesota, but next match will be toughest test yet
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Real Salt Lake forward Corey Baird (10) charges the ball toward Minnesota United defender Romain Metanire (19) during the second half of an MLS soccer match in Kissimmee, Fla., early Saturday, July 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Reinhold Matay)

AP

SALT LAKE CITY — With MLS is Back Tournament wins already in each of their back pockets, there wasn’t much urgency from Real Salt Lake or Minnesota in their scoreless draw on Friday night in Orlando.

Both coaching staffs would’ve preferred a bit more bite up front from their players, but at the end of the day both squads are pleased with the point in the group standings as each moved closer to qualifying for the knockout round.

For RSL, perhaps the biggest takeaway was the fluidity that the backline, in conjunction with defensive midfielders Everton Luiz and Paulo Garcia, knocked the ball around under minimal pressure from Minnesota.

As pressing teams go, Minnesota is certainly one of the lowest-pressing teams in MLS and it showed as RSL’s backline calmly swung the ball side to side during long stretches to try and change the point of attack.

With 82 percent passing percentage, the ball-control performance at the back built off of last week’s win over Colorado.

“That starts with practice, the whole team. Freddy’s (Juarez) really emphasized playing simple and not giving away easy balls to the other team. I think we’ve done that really well over the last two games and hopefully it’s something we continue to build on throughout this tournament,” said RSL keeper Zac MacMath.

“I’m really happy with how the backline is composed. We can continue to grow at it, we’re not a finished product.” — RSL coach Freddy Juarez

Juarez said one of the big things he talks about with his players is structure and positioning. He wants them — particularly the center backs — to be always aware on the field where they’re receiving the ball so they can make quicker distribution.

“They’re starting to see those options, they’re comfortable when they get it cause they have multiple options,” said Juarez.

Against low-pressing Minnesota, there wasn’t too much stress passing the ball around for the backline, but that’s definitely going to change against Sporting Kansas City in the group finale on Wednesday.

Kansas City is one of the top pressing teams in MLS, and the decision making and sharpness along the backline will need to be spot on. Kansas City feasts on pressing opponents into giveaways and then pouncing on those mistakes against disorganized defenses.

Juarez is hopeful that the solid structure and passing RSL has displayed through the first two games will continue.

“I’m really happy with how the backline is composed. We can continue to grow at it, we’re not a finished product. With fatigue you start to see more passes back from the center back to goalkeeper. We want to eliminate that,” said Juarez.

Kansas City likely won’t press quite as much in the Wednesday morning match, but when it does if RSL can bypass the pressure with quick passing along the back that could spring it forward with transition opportunities of its own.